As the chill sets in over the winter months, the ever-looming threat of snow hovers in the air, the dishes get heartier, and the best escape from the nipping cold is a warm restaurant with a wide selection of brown spirits. To better accommodate the changing of the seasons, many restaurants make slight menu changes. Light fruit salads are replaced with piping hot soups and full-bodied red wines are favored over dry rosés.
At New York restaurant Park Avenue, a simple menu change is not enough. Instead, the entire restaurant undergoes a complete transformation. Not only do Chefs Benkei O’Sullivan and Zene Flinn engineer an entirely new menu, but owners Alan and Michael Stillman, a father-son team, also enlist a design firm to reinterpret the restaurant’s motif through a complete overhaul for every season. They also adjust the name of the restaurant to match: Park Avenue Winter, Park Avenue Spring, and so on.
According to son Michael Stillman, the concept of a seasonally themed restaurant is not a new one. The Four Seasons restaurant in New York is credited with being the first restaurant to introduce the seasonally changing menu. But even though the idea itself may not be novel, Stillman says he hopes to improve upon it.
“We wanted this restaurant to take the concept further to embody the season completely and take on the feel, ambiance, and attitude of the season in New York City, without relying on stereotypical manifestations of what is seasonal,” Stillman says. “The idea was less about explicit seasonality, but rather to ensure the space has the feel of the season, and not just from the food, but from each aspect that touches our guests experiences. Essentially, we create four separate restaurants in one space.”
The history behind the Park Avenue restaurant is a rocky one. Park Avenue originally opened in 2007. It was a beloved restaurant that in its first year received two stars from former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. But after losing the lease at its Midtown 63rd Street location, the 6-year-old Park Avenue restaurant had to close its doors. It later reopened as General Assembly, a 170-seat bistro in the Flatiron District. A quick six months later, General Assembly shuttered to make way for the return of Park Avenue.
With the resurrection of Park Avenue comes the challenge of creating the separate spring, summer, fall, and winter restaurants. This entire concept is one that could quickly become gimmicky if taken on by the wrong group. Instead, New York-based design firm AvroKO approaches each changing season with sophistication and class. The company transforms everything from the furniture to the floor plan and the light fixtures four times a year. The planning process takes months, but the actual on-site transition has a very quick turnaround.